Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Birmingham business owner says 'no Muslims' sign was a joke

Published: Monday, December 13, 2010, 10:27 PM ??? Updated: Monday, December 13, 2010, 10:29 PM

It was all a joke, says the Roebuck business owner whose outdoor sign last week sported the phrase "BBQ Pork Restaurant Is Safest No Muslims Inside," igniting an uproar that went global.

"I still can't get over it. It still blows my mind," Chuck Biddinger, owner of Electronic Repair Co., 8518 First Ave. North, said of the resulting furor, and that anyone would find the sign offensive.

A television station last week did a story on the sign and posted it online. Once that happened, "it went viral," and was picked up by several newspapers around the world and on websites such as wonkette.com, Biddinger said.

The phrase was one of hundreds Biddinger has put on his company marquee since 2005, changing it every week to help stir up business, he said. He gets most of the phrases from joke-oriented websites, but this one came from an e-mail he received -- he said he doesn't remember who sent it.

"It's just a freaking joke," he said, noting that the Muslim reference was on one side of the sign. "I don't want to offend people, but they need to lighten up."

The president of the Birmingham Islamic Society said Muslims don't think it is funny.

"This is just a part of the Islamophobia that's going around the country," Ashfaq Taufique said. "It's very offensive . . . Good people in this country wouldn't say it's a joke."

Biddinger said he's gotten just a couple of letters and e-mails criticizing him and that the controversy hasn't hurt his business. "The few calls I've had have been positive," he said.

Taufique said incidents like this strengthen the resolve to continue to reach out to non-Muslims to show "we are part of your community. We are your doctors, your lawyers, your business owners."

Visitors, including Biddinger, are welcome to the Islamic center in Hoover, the mosque in Homewood and worship center in Fairfield to learn more about Muslims and their faith, Taufique said.

"We want to reach out to him and others, to use the opportunity to tell what Islam is all about," Taufique said.

"I'd be glad to talk to them," Biddinger said.

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